The Minnesota Wild Final Playoff Push Has Begun, And Coach And Rookie Of The Year Winners Are In!

Marc Elliott

HIBBING… The National Hockey League is making its way toward the playoffs, and the Minnesota Wild are the current occupants of the seventh spot overall in the Western Conference as the first wild card. However, the competition for the two wild card positions will be fierce, and with the Wild currently sitting at 80 points with 15 regular-season games to go, the question is, can the Wild hold on to a playoff spot and get in? It is a worthwhile question because the Wild do not exactly have a cakewalk schedule the rest of the way.
In fact, if the Wild stumble in any way, shape, or form in their remaining 15 contests, they could find themselves on the outside looking in as far as the Stanley Cup tournament goes. Starting Monday eve, the Wild play at BOS, at NYI, and at NJ, then have a home and home with DET, then a home game vs. VAN, and then are at STL, PHO and LAK. In April they go to CHI, then have the Pengwah at home, then WIN on the road, then finish up with three tilts at home: BOS, STL and NASH. Barring any OTs or shootouts, I am looking for the club to go 7-8. They would finish with 94 points. Can they get in with 94?
The two clubs on the Wild’s tail as of right now are the Dallas North Stars (currently losing to the JETS in Winnipeg, 6-2, 3rd) and the Phoenix Coyotes. Going into today both teams had 75 points, with DAL having a game in hand and PHO having played one game more. How do I see both clubs finishing up? For the NorthStars, I see them going 8-7 the rest of the way (now down 7-2 to the JETS) for a 91-point finish. For Phoenix, I see them with a possible 6-6-2 finish, giving them an 89-point finish.
Other teams in the mix are VAN, WINN, and NASH, all of which would have to have a combination of extraordinary luck and a near-total collapse of either MINN or DAL or both to get in. I don’t see that happening. So, if the Wild can finish at a better pace than the NorthStars or Yotes, they can get in. If either of those two clubs play at a pace superior to the Wild, it could turn out to be an interesting end to the regular season. Stay tuned…
WHEN THE NHL HANDS OUT its annual post-season awards, don’t be at all surprised when the Jack Adams Coach of the Year award goes to the Colorado Avalanche’s Patrick Roy. Sure, there were many observers, myself included, who wondered if Roy had the chops to coach in the show. Many wondered if his temper would get the better of him when the going got tough, and indeed at the end of his very first regular-season tilt, he had a dustup with Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau.
But it also turns out that during his eight-season ownership/coaching stint with the Quebec Remparts, Roy was busy studying the coaching game and the business side of the game, and very much knew that somewhere down the road he was going to get a shot at coaching in the NHL, and that when that chance arrived he was going to dive into it head-first and succeed as quickly as possible. Roy had mostly been a winner as a player in the show, and his mindset going in as a coach was going to be to duplicate that. He has and then some. The Av’s are currently in second place in the Central division of the West, with the fourth-highest point total in the conference as well.
You might say, “Right place, right time.” And you would probably be at least partially correct. Last year the Av’s appeared to be a team of underachieving veterans with some strong young talent that hadn’t emerged. Add to that the savvy decision of the Av’s to use their number-one overall draft pick from the 2013 entry draft to take Nathan MacKinnon over everyone else’s consensus number one, defenseman Seth Jones. MacKinnon has played a huge role in the club’s success and will be the recipient of the Calder trophy as the league Rookie of the Year. It is going to be an interesting Cup tournament with the Av’s in it…
THE NHL GM’S HELD THEIR winter meetings in Florida last week, and outside of working on their winter tans and getting a break in before the grind of the late-season push and then the playoffs, nothing really earth-shaking occurred at the event. There was discussion on ongoing issues like overtime periods and the shootout, as well as other minor rule tweaks. But without a lot needing any drastic change at the moment, the one issue that emerged as having had the most debate was face-offs.
The talk centered around the need to make face-offs more efficient by enacting a rule that in effect would make the possibility of first face-off success stronger by penalizing the team that forced a face-off encroachment. If a first face-off failed because a center was “cheating” on the draw, or if a winger wasn’t holding his position in the face-off lineup, the offending club would have to have their next face-off man (if their center was tossed) line up 12-18 inches farther back from the face-off dot, thereby giving the opposing team the face-off advantage.  
Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t see any major problems with the way face-offs are going right now. In fact, relative to the overtime periods, the shootout, and the like, I think the game is fine just the way it is. Apparently there are some IIHF competitions that use the altered face-off rule at this time, and perhaps with nothing in the game needing any dramatic change, the powers that be had to discuss something at these meetings—anything. The only thing that needs to be addressed at this time in my book is checking from behind. It’s dangerous and it needs to go. Simple as that. Other than that, let’s play hockey! The best time of the year is at hand…. PEACE

Marc Elliott is a free lance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota.